An essay by - Heather Spoonheim

 

All too often I hear fellow Atheists say, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using a comic book as proof of Superman.” I always find this statement offensive because it shows a very malicious irreverence for a book that I greatly revere. I would like to encourage Atheists that are in the habit of using the above remark to consider saying, instead, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using the Iliad as proof of the Greek Pantheon.”

I ask for this rephrasing not only because of my personal reverence for the Bible, but because it is a much more accurate comparison. The Bible, like the Iliad, is an important historical document that opens a window into the minds of antiquity. When I use the phrase, “historical document”, please do not falsely infer that I am implying that the bible accurately documents historical events by modern standards; I am simply stating that the Bible is a document of ancient origin which provides us with an invaluable glimpse into history. This glimpse offers astounding insight into the development of a mythology that has shaped the western world and an understanding of the very processes that generated the myth itself.

Comic books are entertaining and intended fictions that are known to be fictions by their contemporary readers. Comics are an integral part of contemporary society, and perhaps it might even be argued that they cast light on the way we view the world around us; it must be noted, however, that we have libraries full of literary works that reflect contemporary thought but access to the literature of antiquity is much more restricted and should therefore be much more highly regarded.

The repugnancy with which many Atheists view the Bible is unwarranted and only ever rationalized by those who are unable to dissociate the document from the institutions that assert the mythology to be literal. If these same institutions had determined to assert the literality of The Iliad instead, The Iliad would now be the book of western Atheist scorn. From an historical perspective, however, both of these books are truly a treasure and both should be equally cherished.

The Iliad mythologizes some ancient legends by documenting them in a very poetic form. The bible, on they other hand, not only mythologizes ancient legends, but then goes on to include roughly a millennium of reactions and extensions to that mythology. The bible is more than just a book; it’s a compact library of the works of authors whose lives spanned a thousand years. Few, if any, of the books in that library are works of fiction.

Some of the earliest authors collaborated over centuries to produce a wonderful collection of legends that some early Semites used to imagine their origins back to the first human beings. While these legends in and of themselves are mostly fabricated, it is likely that many of them have seeds in actual events. Those that were purely imagined weren’t likely intended as fictions but rather as proposed explanations for the origins of man and his world.

Some authors documented how early kings declared their lineages to tie directly into the earliest legends. This is not an uncommon practice in monarchies and there are monarchs today whose lineages do not stand up to much scrutiny. Such documentation is an astounding example of how far back this sort of practice goes.

There are excellent examples of ancient prophecy that use prophetic language that humbles modern prophets. Good prophecy is not fiction at all, for it is a poetic reflection of the mindset of an age. Good prophecy promises justice in times of injustice, peace in times of war, and war in times of monotonous peace. A lot of truth about the present can be found in prophecy, just not in the future that the prophecy predicts.

There are books of law, colourful descriptions of battles, and early observations of nature that are all painted in the context of supernatural beings interacting directly with the physical realm. This supernatural context is not added as a tool of fiction but represents, in fact, the way in which Bronze Age authors viewed the world around them. To this very day we paint our narratives of war as battles between good and evil, although nowadays we more frequently use the terms freedom and fascism. Acts of nature still fill us and our descriptions with supernatural imagery.

My point is that we would all be rather insulted if the sum body of all of our writings were viewed in a thousand years as amounting to nothing more than pulp fiction. The literature of an age reflects its zeitgeist. Reexamination of history often shows us just how much colour was added by our grandparents and reveals details that they could have never imagined. I can’t imagine how my grandfathers would have felt had they lived to learn the true nuclear capabilities of the Soviets.

The bible is much more than fiction. It ties all the hallmarks of good mythology together with historical events as they were known and understood at the time. It reflects the way in which Judaism defined itself and its pride. It illustrates the elation and the horror with which a culture might greet the fulfillment of one of its most hallowed prophecies. It tangibly illustrates the passion with which mankind seeks to escape his own mortality. So compelling is its promise of eternal life and happiness that it has been able to inspire or absolve all of the atrocities ever committed by those who knew it.

So elastic is this mythology that it can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. It can be reshaped to provide absolution to anyone and eternal damnation to everyone else. It can even continue to shape minds that have become fully cognizant of the myth so that they will persist in clinging to the central notion that there is a god and a purpose behind everything. In consideration of all of this I resubmit that this astounding Bronze Age library of mythology blended with history deserves more reverence than a comic book.

Views: 484

Comment by Jon Heim on March 21, 2011 at 11:39am

sigh.. you dont use one source to get information to do a report. you dont describe something by stating what that something already is. you wouldn't allow a school to teach you're children math from a book that was written centuries ago by different writers that contradicted each other.

yet, with Christians and the bible, all of this logic is thrown out the window.

Comment by Mike Robinson on March 21, 2011 at 11:51am
I agree. It is an insult to comic books to compare them to the bible.

As works of fiction, comics are honest in their attempt to entertain.

Even you seem to understand bible stories are works of fiction. As such they are dishonest in their attempt to be accepted as historical documents.

I would consider the stories in the bible to be as valuable as Aesop’s fables if the bible’s stories weren’t so full of immoral teachings. I could almost compare the bible to Mein Kampf if the bible had any support for its historical accounts. As the bible is no better in its morality and has less support for its historicity, even here the bible should be judged as inferior.

So I repeat your plea to atheists. Please don’t insult comics by comparing them to the bible.
Comment by Walter Maki on March 21, 2011 at 11:53am
The bible is a good example of making a story believable is to throw some sort of historical truth which gives their followers some some of sign post to go on. People tend to take most thing at face value if it sounds good to them or the ones they trust, so very few will question it.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 21, 2011 at 11:57am
I should point out that both of you have failed to separate the book itself from those who assert it to be literal.  No one would want a school teaching the Iliad as history, or using it to form a basis for mathematics.  No one seems to think that the Iliad is dishonest, or that the atrocities mentioned in it are amoral.  Without referring to the actions of those who take the bible literally, what can be said about it that can't be said about the Iliad?
Comment by Eduardo Iocca on March 21, 2011 at 12:03pm
Yes, the bible is fiction, like the Iliad is fiction. The difference is that no one believes the Iliad to be historical fact any more. I doubt there are even many people who would react to the Iliad with "reverence" or talk up its ability to "shape minds". We all have our opinions of which particular works of fiction should be revered, but most of us realize we have no right to demand the same reverence from other readers.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 21, 2011 at 12:17pm
Although the historicity of the Iliad was given up on during the 18th century, it is a topic that has been reopened upon a better understanding of the archeological site at Hisarlik.  As far as shaping minds goes, it still competes at the box office.
Comment by Alexander Jason Cherry on March 21, 2011 at 12:28pm
"Without referring to the actions of those who take the bible literally, what can be said about it that can't be said about the Iliad?"

As far as I'm aware, the Iliad and the Odyssey weren't written as books of laws, instructing people on what to do (and, in the case of the old testament, how to mutilate your children, and how to keep slaves, etc.). The intent (seemingly) of the Iliad and the Odyssey was art, whereas the intent of everything in the Bible (barring, mayhaps, the Song of Solomon) was anything other than art.

 

From its beginning, the Bible misrepresented itself far more than the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 21, 2011 at 12:46pm
The books of laws included in the bible were the laws of Judea - a Bronze Age culture.  That they were put forward as laws to be followed by anyone other than that culture is the result of efforts by the fathers of Christianity who did not, in fact, write the the laws or any other books that were used in the bible itself.
Comment by Mike Robinson on March 21, 2011 at 1:12pm
It sounds like you agree the authors of the laws of the old testament intended to tell people how to live their lives, and this is different from the intent of the authors of the Iliad (and comic books).
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 21, 2011 at 1:19pm
The authors of those laws would be better described as the clerks who recorded them.  Yes, those were in fact the laws of an ancient civilization and they are included in the library that is the Bible.

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